A group of United Nations human rights experts Friday urged greater protection for relatives and civil society groups fighting for the rights of victims of enforced disappearances, noting that they are the subject of intimidation and reprisals and require special support from UN Member States.
"Families of the disappeared and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are sometimes the only voices in their countries calling for truth, justice and reparation for the victims and highlighting the plight of the disappeared both nationally and internationally," said the experts from the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
"Given their fundamental role, many of them are vulnerable to intimidation and face obstacles in their fight to prevent and tackle enforced disappearances," they said in their joint statement marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It seeks to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned to ensure cases are investigated.
The International Day was proclaimed by the General Assembly in December 2010, in a resolution which expressed its deep concern over the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world.
The Working Group has listened to testimony from relatives working to discover what happened to their loved ones, who have told the experts about the risks of speaking out. "Shortly after submitting our cases to the Working Group, police officers started visiting our homes asking us why we had ´sued´ the Government," the relatives said.
"We are calling on States to take or strengthen measures to protect relatives and civil society groups working on issues related to enforced disappearances and prevent and punish any act of intimidation, persecution or reprisal," the experts said.
A shortage of funds is also a constant challenge for NGOs fighting for justice and the Working Groups expressed concern for these "serious constraints" which can have devastating effects for organizations trying to provide support for victims´ families.
"Friday, we again pay tribute to relatives, civil society organizations and all those women and men who untiringly toil for the rights of the victims of enforced disappearance and to eradicate this heinous practice," the members of the Working Group and the Committee said.
"We call upon States and donors to renew their commitment to the fight against enforced disappearances, in particular by providing adequate support to these key individuals and groups who work so hard and so courageously."